Friday, February 10, 2012

Always improving

When I write these blog entries, my hope is that writers who are even more new than I am to the process of writing and publication are stumbling across my entries and finding this useful. I don't have a lot of information that would be useful for seasoned veterans, and some of my advice may even seem naive or wrong-headed. I don't know; I'm still on the outside looking in.

I do know that new writers have an advantage more experienced writers don't: you're still learning. From where you're sitting, I'm sure that doesn't feel great. It feels like you still have so much to do, and isn't it enough that you're getting the words down on the page?

I'm sorry to say, no, it's not, and you're going to stumble and regress and make mistakes and get frustrated, and that's how it goes. But, believe it or not, where you are, that's an advantage. You're well aware you don't know everything, and so you're free to play around to see what works. You know you're not perfect, so you're still reading what other people tell you about how to write well, and you get to try it for yourself to see how it works. You're not locked into your bad habits. You can still change.

The thing is, no matter how good you are at what you do, there are always ways you can improve. When I was new at my current day job, I was in a meeting and a manager was talking about signing up for trainings. A co-worker spoke up to say she'd been working there for years, and didn't need any more training. The manager replied that she'd been in the field for 25 years, and was still learning new things. It clicked for me then, that education isn't something you passively absorb for the first chunk of your life, then go out and put into practice. Education is something you go through so you can find out how to best learn throughout your life.

That applies to writing, as well. Trends change, and interests shift, and the writers who are still producing bestsellers aren't the ones who write the same way they did when they first started. Sometimes it's a shift in writing style or approach to storytelling. Other times, it's an entire rehaul of the way the author tells a story, often winding up with an entirely different narrative from what that author was writing before.

Even authors who don't need to adapt or who started out being able to write well have room for improvement, though it's often harder to see. No one is so perfect that there isn't room to tell a tale better.

But, if what you're doing is working, there isn't much incentive to change, and one can stagnate that way. Authors who don't continue to adapt and learn may burn out, or they may face a market that's moved on without them. Readers may grow disillusioned with an author whose books are all the same, and move onto new narratives.

And so, future author, you have an advantage over established authors. You can set a habit now of lifelong learning. You have the opportunity, right now, to acknowledge that you'll never be complacent, that you'll always strive to improve and learn and adapt as you need to.

If you can accept right now that you're not perfect, and will always fall just short of perfection, you're well ahead of the game.

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